John A. Klassen, PA Minnesota Employment Law Attorney
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Railroad ordered to pay two whistleblowers $932,070

The Norfolk Southern Railway Co. was ordered to pay $932,070.46 in damages, including more than $387,000 in punitive damages and attorney's fees, to two whistleblowers. Following an investigation, OSHA determined that Norfolk Southern violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act's whistleblower provisions when it awarded the employees these damages. The investigations were completed by the US Department of Labor's Occupational and Safety and Health Administration's Chicago office, which covers Region 5 including Minnesota.

In addition, the company has to expunge the employees' disciplinary records, train all employees on whistleblower protection rights and post notices regarding whistleblower rights in workplaces.

The investigation found that a switchman in Illinois injured his shoulder when he was riding a train that derailed in the train yard in June 2009. The employee reported the injury immediately and was terminated in August 2009. The company alleged this employee gave false or conflicting information about his injury. In April 2010, the local board ordered the employee to be reinstated and for the railway to pay 10 months of lost wages. The company only repaid a portion of the past wages.

The second employee, a trackman in Michigan, said he was injured while traveling to a job site in July 2009. The truck he was riding in hit a bump in the road causing the employee to hit his head on the roof of the truck. The employee suffered severe injuries from the whiplash and was not able to work. The company alleged he made false statements about his injuries to get time off work and fired him in August 2009. In addition to damages, OSHA ordered this employee be reinstated to his job once his doctors clear him.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act whistleblower provisions protect employees against retaliation from their employer for reporting any violation of federal law related to railroad safety or security, or of other protected activities.

Source: OSHA Regional News Release, "Norfolk Southern Railway ordered by US Labor Department's OSHA to pay more than $932,000 after illegally terminating 2 injured workers," Scott Allen and Rhonda Burke, August 28, 2012

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